The people making faith-based films have got it all wrong, turning out feel-good melodramas like “A Miracle From God” or period Gospel pictures like “Risen.” Horror is the way to save souls.
Fear is universal, an all-consuming void for believers and sceptics alike. So who are we going to call when the haunting comes in demonic form? “Ghostbusters?” Not likely. Not when “The Conjuring” (2013) made $319 million worldwide. These days people seem to prefer their nightmares without the wacky humor.
Dealing with pure evil is all in a day’s work for real-life, rosary-wielding paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga). Taking a hiatus after the onerous 1970 case in the franchise’s first film (Lorraine has visions of a spectral nun, of her husband impaled, the usual) they are drawn seven years later — per request of the Church — to check out an Amityville-like poltergeist in the grimy London neighborhood of Enfield.
Their mission, if they choose to accept it, is to find out the truth behind reports that 11-year-old Janet Hodgson (a terrific Madison Wolfe) has indeed become possessed by a demon.
She sleepwalks, lost in hellish nightmares. She levitates, and rants in an “Exorcist” voice. Poltergeist-like activity terrorizes the house. Is it the work of Satan or is it . . . puberty?
The Warrens are about to pull out when fraud is strongly indicated. But when two reels of audiotape unwind to form a cross, it’s a clue that convinces them that there’s a soul — and a family — that needs saving.
One of the redeeming virtues of this overdetermined sequel is its sense of humor. At times it seems like a horror movie directed by Buster Keaton with flying furniture and other sight gags. It has funny, reflexive irony and a grim period look that could be called kitchen sink supernaturalism.
But there are only so many times a slamming door will get an audience to jump. It’s what’s behind the door, which “The Conjuring 2” fails to show, that is the true horror.
THE CONJURING 2
Directed by James Wan. Written by Wan, Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes, and David Leslie Johnson. Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe. At Boston Common, Fenway, Kendall Square, suburbs. 109 minutes. R (terror and horror violence).